"Let go"

mom2twoboys   Tue Oct 03, 2006 12:11 pm GMT
Is the phrase "let go" an American idiom? I teach English in Hong Kong. One of the sentences my students read was something like, "The girls let go of the kite." In trying to change it to present progressive/continuous, one of my students wanted to change the "go" to "going." I explained that we change the "let" not the "go" but then he asked what part of speech the "go" is. I have consulted all my grammar books and tried to research it online and am drawing a blank. My fellow teachers think it may be best explained as American idiomatic usage--anyone agree or think differently?


Robin   Tue Oct 03, 2006 12:50 pm GMT
"Let go" is a very popular expression, as in 'let go' of the past, and move into the present.

"The girls let go of the kite."

The girls saw the kite going.

"Going" is not very helpful.

"The girls let go of the kite"

The girls let the kite go.

The girls held onto the kite.

The girls lost the kite

The girls would not let go of the kite.
JW   Tue Oct 03, 2006 1:45 pm GMT
That is a very good question. The best reply I can muster is that the phrase "let go of" is a kind of phrasal verb meaning "to release" or to "relinquish." If so, then it is similar to other phrasal verbs such as "come across" (The old lady came across some photos of her late husband.) and "eat up" (The boys eat up their evening meal.).

This explanation is the best I can do although I am not satisfied with it. You will notice that the two phrasal verb examples I provided cosist of a verb and an adverb or a verb and a preposition. "Let go of" however seems different. The preposition is there. But what do we do with the "let" and the "go?" Hopefully someone will provide a better explanation. If they do not, my advice is to tell your students that it is simply an idiomatic phrasal verb.
Good luck and Godspeed,
JW   Tue Oct 03, 2006 2:17 pm GMT
I had another (possibly bad) thought. Look at the sentence "The police let him go." This sentence can be disected as follows:

The police (subject) let (main verb) him go (infinitive clause)

The last part of this sentence, "him go," may confuse you. After all, there is no visible infinitive, so why did I call it an infinitive clause? Well, to clear up the confusion, simply change the "let" to an equivalent verb like "allow" and then the sentence reads "...allowed him TO go." For some unexplanable reason we admit the "to" when we use let although years ago we did not.

But to return to my argument. In older books you may have come across such sentences as this: "He let go the balloon." Notice the "of" is ommited. It sounds a bit strange to us now, but it was perfectly acceptable long ago. And when we analyze it, we find it bears a remarkable similarity to the sentence above.

He (subject) let (main verb) (to) go the balloon (infinitive clause)

So how does this answer your original question. I suggest that the phrase "let go of" evolved from something similar to the sentences I have posted above. "He let (allowed) the balloon to go" became "He let to go the balloon," which in turn became "He let go the balloon," which finally arived at the construction we have today, "He let go of the balloon." I don't know how helpful that was. I hope you can do something with it.
Again, I wish you good luck,
JW   Tue Oct 03, 2006 2:20 pm GMT
To avoid confusion, the "admit" in the sentence "For some unexplanable reason we admit the "to" when we use let although years ago we did not" should be read as "ommit." My mistake.
Guest   Tue Oct 03, 2006 3:02 pm GMT
"let go": Phrasal Verb or Idiom?

The online dictionary suggests that it is an idiomatic expression.


Phrasal Verbs:
let down
1. To cause to come down gradually; lower: let down the sails.
a. To withdraw support from; forsake.
b. To fail to meet the expectations of; disappoint.
let on
1. To allow to be known; admit: Don't let on that you know me.
2. To pretend.
let out
1. To come to a close; end: School let out early. The play let out at 11 p.m.
2. To make known; reveal: Who let that story out?
3. To increase the size of (a garment, for example): let out a coat.
let up
1. To slow down; diminish: didn't let up in their efforts.
2. To come to a stop; cease: The rain let up.
let alone
Not to mention; much less: "Their ancestors had been dirt poor and never saw royalty, let alone hung around with them" Garrison Keillor.
let go
To cease to employ; dismiss: had to let 20 workers go.
let off on Informal
To cause to diminish, as in pressure; ease up on: Let off on the gas so that we do not exceed the speed limit.
let (one's) hair down
To drop one's reserve or inhibitions.
let (someone) have it Informal
1. To beat, strike, or shoot at someone.
2. To scold or punish.
let (someone) in on
1. To reveal (a secret) to: They finally let me in on their plans.
2. To allow to participate in (something).
let up on
To be or become more lenient with: Why don't you let up on the poor child?
Robin   Tue Oct 03, 2006 3:12 pm GMT
In this context, 'let go' seems to be more like a phrasal verb, because it is simply describing an action.

"The girls let go of the kite."

"The girls were letting go of the kite"

However in these sentences it is more idiomatic, because it is not really an action that is being described.

The girls would like to let go of the kite.

If only the girls would let go of the kite.

The girls would like to let the kite go.
JW   Tue Oct 03, 2006 4:43 pm GMT
""let go": Phrasal Verb or Idiom? " - Guest

As far as I know, all phrasal verbs are idioms. Check the definition for "phrasal verb" on dictionary.com and read the phrasal verb entry on wikipedia.org. Also, check out this site, http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/esl/eslphrasal.html, created by the University of Purdue. Perhaps you are confusing "phrasal verb" with "verb phrase," which is a differently thing entirely.

And Robin, before you post anymore advice, please stop to consider if it is useful or meaningful in any way. I imagine that it will reduce the frequency of your posts significantly.
JW   Tue Oct 03, 2006 4:45 pm GMT
One more thing: if you want to access that Purdue site, make sure you delete the comma at the very end of the URL.
Robin   Tue Oct 03, 2006 10:30 pm GMT
Dear JW

"let go": Phrasal Verb or Idiom? The Web Site I found and I posted under 'Guest' seemed to suggest that there was a distinction between Phrasal Verbs and Idioms. Whereas the Website that you have directed people to, gets round that problem by describing all Phrasal Verbs as Idioms.

I am only trying to tease out the meaning which is what I thought the Forum was for.
JW   Wed Oct 04, 2006 12:59 am GMT
Did you visit Dictionary.com? Here are some of the various definitions it lists for idioms:

Random House Unabridged Dictionary: Idiom - an expression whose meaning is not predictable from the usual meanings of its constituent elements

The American Heritage Dictionary: Idiom - a speech form or an expression of a given language that is peculiar to itself grammatically or cannot be understood from the individual meanings of its elements

Princeton's Wordnet: Idiom - an expression whose meanings cannot be inferred from the meanings of the words that make it up

Now let us examine a few phrasal verbs. Throw up means to vomit, hang on means to wait awhile, back down means to retreat, and die away means to fade. Now in any of those examples, were you able to infer the meaning of the entire phrase from the meanings of the elements that compose that phrase--that is, can you infer that "throw up" means "to vomit" simply by looking at the meaning of the word "throw" and then looking at the meaning of the word "up"? Absolutely not. And if not, then do these not fit perfectly the definition of an idiom? And if you doubt this, go and look at the very definition of a phrasal verb: "a combination of verb and one or more adverbial or prepositional particles, as catch on, take off, bring up, or put up with, functioning as a single semantic unit and often having an IDIOMATIC meaning that could not be predicted from the meanings of the individual parts."

That phrasal verbs are a type of idiom is not debatable. What is at issue in this thread is whether or not "let go of" is in fact a phrasal verb. You have added nothing but confusion to this debate. I would suggest that follow the advice I gave you earlier, and post less often.
mom2twoboys   Wed Oct 04, 2006 2:13 am GMT

Your reasoning is very similar to mine. My first thought was phrasal verb, but when I tried to come up with similar examples, I was stumped. I can not find another phrasal verb that "ends with" a "verb" (though the students did--now I can't think of it)--mostly they seem to end in prepositions or adverbs, as you stated.

Your second explanation above might be plausible, but a bit too confusing for the level of my students.

So a possibly stupid question--what part of speech are parts of a phrasal verb? Do they retain their original "title" (such as the aforementioned prepositions and adverbs)? So would this still be called a verb?

I am okay with calling it an idiomatic phrasal verb--I've already told the student that my gut feeling was exactly that. I'm just trying to figure out if I've missed something.

(it's interesting to re-read what I've written and see how many idioms I've used, including "come up with" "stumped" "gut feeling" "figure out" I love idioms!)

JW   Wed Oct 04, 2006 3:30 am GMT
In my opinion, the phrasal verb in question is not "let go" but rather "let go of." And if I am correct, then you need not attempt to think up a phrasal verb that ends in a verb since the phrasal verb we are discussing does not in fact end in a verb but rather in a preposition--namely, the preposition "of." Sceptical? Take a look at the two sentences below:

1. I came across my old class-ring today.
Since "came across" = "found, " we can substitute and get this sentence: "I found my old class-ring today."

2. I let go of the balloon.
Since "let go of" = "released," we can substitute and get this sentence: "I released the balloon." But if we were to say that only "let go" = "release," we would wind up with this sentence, which is very ungrammatical: "I released of the balloon."

And as for your second question, it is my impression that the components of a phrasal verb retain their notional classification. In other words, anyone who analyzes "came across" would still call "came" a verb and "across" a preposition or an adverb.

Finally, I think you would do right to tell your students that this is a phrasal verb. We may be incorrect here, but if so, then it is no disaster for your students. To think of "let go of" as a phrasal verb meaning "released" is a very helpful way to understand the construction.

Again, Godspeed, and may I say that I am glad to have such an enthusiastic, idiom-loving English teacher out there. Keep up the good work.

Geoff_One   Wed Oct 04, 2006 4:39 am GMT
The girls are piloting the kite.

The girls are sending the kite skyward.

The girls are manoeuvring the kite skyward.

The girls are controling the flight of the kite.
Robin   Wed Oct 04, 2006 11:27 am GMT
Dear JW

I found what you wrote interesting, but also confusing. The original question concerned 'let go', not 'let go of', so I think you have added an element of confusion.

I don't think that it helps to be rude to people who are trying to sort something out.

In the Web Site that I found, it made a distinction between: Phrasal Verbs, and Idioms.

In the Web Site that you directed people to, is said that Phrasal Verbs were idiomatic.

I appreciate that 'being idiomatic' and being an 'idiom' are different. (I find it hard not to think of phrasal verbs as being 'idiosyncratic'.)

I came across an interesting article in Wikipedia, which made a distinction between phrasal verbs that were idiomatic, and the words that constitute a phrasal verb being used in a 'literal way'.

With reference to the example that was originally given, I think that the words were being used in a literal way, i.e. in keeping with their original meaning.

to let go of the kite.

rather than in an idiomatic way:

we will have to 'let go' of some of the staff.

Also: coming back to the original question:

When 'let go' is used in the literal sense, 'someone let go', then it is simply an expression in English.

However, when someone uses the expression in an idiomatic way:

We will have to 'let go' of the staff, then that usage my be restricted to a particular geographical area. Although I personally think that idiomatic usage is fairly widespread.

Anyway, this is the example from Wikipedia: under "Examples of literal and idiomatic verb-phrases".

Examples of literal and idiomatic verb-phrases
Many phrasal verbs may, of course, be used either in the idiomatic or the literal sense, such as:

He came across the garden to speak to me (literal)
I came across an old photograph (idiomatic)
We came across him while he was working out (idiomatic)
The old lady came across as being very frightened (idiomatic)
Some idiomatic phrasal verbs have a distinct syntax which would not make sense if given a literal interpretation:

She threw the ball up (literal, transitive)
She threw up (idiomatic, intransitive)